Showman/ Producer/ Vaudeville Artist (1902-1967)
Winner of Tampa's Citizen of the Year Award in 1959, Leon Dunkins Claxton Sr. was a great producer, entertainer, and one of the first African-Americans to find great success and infamy in the outdoor entertainment industry. Claxton reached the apex of his career with triumph of his show Harlem in Havana, and went onto enjoy a good deal of wealth and social distinction, despite the odds against him as a self-made, black entrepeneur.
By the third grade, Leon joined Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a water boy for the elephants traveling across the U.S.A. By age of 16, he appeared as a featured contortionist on Ringling Bros. Circus.
As the Twenty’s roared, Leon was making a name for himself as a renowned Chicago vaudevillian. By the early 1930s, he began producing ‘colored’ productions including the famed Cotton Club Showboat, which Claxton produced for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1934. Claxton's reputation was untouchable in the production of quality shows that presented brown-skinned entertainers to a nation divided by segregation.
Claxton premiered his first sepia revue on Royal American Shows’ in 1935. Along with his wife, Gwendolyn Bates Claxton, who helped co-managed the show. A philanthropist and pillar in the Tampa business community, Claxton also built the Claxton Manor Motel in 1965. Learn more about his life in the coming documentary film project.
Through The Harlem in Havana Project, his life and entertainment legacy will not be forgotten.